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Eyes are on Bismarck-area North Dakota House race with deceased candidate

Eyes are on Bismarck-area North Dakota House race with deceased candidate

From the North Dakota election preview series
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Two candidates in a Bismarck-area state legislative race say they will await the results of the election to see how votes for a deceased nominee might affect the outcome, but another hopeful left open potential legal action.

Mandan-area voters also will elect a new state senator. The local seats in the Legislature are among 69 on the ballot this fall in North Dakota.

Republican District 8 House nominee David Andahl, 55, of Baldwin, died Oct. 5 from COVID-19. The district covers a swath of central North Dakota east and north of Bismarck.

Andahl's death occurred too close to Election Day to change the ballot, with mail-in voting already underway. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in an opinion said Andahl's votes should be counted, and if sufficient for him to be elected, his death would create a vacancy that District 8 Republican leaders could fill by appointment.

Running for District 8's two House seats are Republican Dave Nehring, of Bismarck, and Democrats Kathrin Volochenko, of Mercer, and Linda Babb, of Bismarck.

Nehring and Volochenko, both of whom have served in local government, have economic issues top of mind for their district.

Neither offered an opinion of how Andahl's death affects the race.

"The impact of David's death to this legislative race is unknown at this point. That will be determined after the election," Nehring said.

Volochenko said "We're just going to have to wait and see what happens after the final tally is posted, the election results."

Babb said "it's not fair to the voters" that district Republicans could appoint someone to the seat should Andahl receive enough votes to be elected -- that "people should vote for the person, not the party."

She did not rule out pursuing a lawsuit should Andahl win and she come in third.

"If I had support to do that, I would, yes, because I do strongly believe that people need to vote for the person that's going to be managing the position, not the seat because the party wants to have the seat," Babb said. 

Nehring and Andahl were running together. Gov. Doug Burgum endorsed them, and they captured district Republicans' endorsements and voters' nominations, defeating longtime Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. 

Delzer and the governor have tangled over budget issues. Burgum put $1.85 million of his own money into a political group run by former advisers that targeted Delzer's seat. Delzer said Burgum's hefty donations were "not right." House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, has said Burgum's donations to the Dakota Leadership PAC that targeted Delzer set back executive-legislative relations.

District 8 Republican Chairman Loren DeWitz has said the district party is still campaigning for Andahl, seeing a path to appointing a GOP successor should voters elect him.

DeWitz said an appointment "will be open to anybody who would like to" seek it, including Delzer, and also said he is not endorsing anybody and "I want it to be wide open and fair." The district party's executive committee would make an appointment.

Delzer, one of the Legislature's most powerful members, said he "would certainly enjoy the opportunity to serve" but will "just have to wait and see how the election goes."

District 8 House

Nehring, of Bismarck, owns a habitat planting business and has experience on the Bowbells City Council, as township supervisor for Apple Creek Township in Burleigh County, as a regional director of what is now the North Dakota EMS Association and as a district adviser on the North Dakota Game and Fish Advisory Board. 

"In addition, my work career has been diverse, giving me insight into numerous industries," Nehring said. "I take pride in the fact that I always try to learn as much as I possibly can regarding issues that I am dealing with."

If elected, he would support the agriculture and energy industries, which he said "are feeling pressure from outside influences, and need to be able to continue as strongholds of our economic success." 

"In the 2021 legislative session, we need to continue our focus on strengthening the economy, and ensure that North Dakota continues to be the best place to do business," Nehring said.

Volochenko is a U.S. Air Force veteran, was a two-term Kief mayor and was city auditor for nine years. She farms small grains and runs a long-haul trucking company with her husband. 

Her priorities are to retain high-paying jobs in District 8, which is home to Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant, which is set to close in 2022. Volochenko also wants to maintain schools and their student population, as well as maintain the critical-access hospitals in the district.

"Just help people, take care of people in every way," she said of her priorities.

She sees a balanced budget as a priority for the 2021 Legislature, with the coronavirus pandemic as a threat. She sees the Legislature's main priorities in health and human services, food, education and infrastructure.

Babb is a retired computer technician and system administrator. She cites her experience as a North Dakota team captain for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination as having prepared her for the Legislature.

Her priorities, if elected, include improving resources for mental health, addiction and homelessness.

"I just don't think that there's enough support in the Republican Party for the things that I am concerned about," Babb said.

She thinks the Democratic-NPL Party needs more of a voice in the Republican supermajority state, and said the party asked her to run. 

Sen. Howard Anderson Jr., R-Turtle Lake, is running unopposed for reelection in District 8.

New face for Mandan

Mandan-area voters will elect a new state senator this year.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, decided last year not to seek a seventh term, leaving open District 34's Senate seat.

Republican voters in June nominated Doug Larsen, who with his wife, Amy, owns Apex Builders in Mandan, as well as a property management company and a hotel. He also has served 26 years in the North Dakota National Guard.

He cites his business and military experience as having prepared him for the Legislature. He sees priorities in balancing the next two-year budget without raising taxes, setting conditions for economic diversification and managing agricultural and energy resources.

"We're a blessed area for having fertile farmland," Larsen said. "We're also a blessed area for having the type of energy infrastructure that we have and the type of people that we have."

Democrats nominated Adam Michal for District 34 Senate. He did not return three phone calls, a text message, an email or a Facebook message.

Joining Larsen on the GOP ticket are incumbent Reps. Todd Porter and Nathan Toman, both R-Mandan. 

Democrats nominated Joshua Johnson and Bernie Parkhurst for District 34 House. 

Seats

Twenty-three Senate seats and 46 House seats are on North Dakota's Nov. 3 general election ballot. 

Candidates comprise 68 Republicans, 55 Democrats and one independent nominee.

Most incumbents sought reelection and advanced to November from the June primary, including 21 senators and 39 representatives.

Two senators and four representatives did not seek reelection. Three representatives were defeated in the primary.

Republicans control the Senate 37-10 and the House 79-15.

North Dakota's legislative districts each have one senator and two representatives.

In addition to the District 8 and 34 races, other local legislative candidates are:

District 28 Senate 

  • Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr

District 28 House

  • Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley
  • Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton
  • Beckie Phillips, Democratic-NPL

District 30 Senate

  • Sen. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck

District 30 House

  • Rep. Glenn Bosch, R-Bismarck
  • Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck

District 32 Senate

  • Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck
  • Amelia Doll, Democratic-NPL

District 32 House

  • Rep. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck
  • Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck
  • Krisanna Holkup Peterson, Democratic-NPL
  • Carl Young, Democratic-NPL

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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